Stress is one of Australia’s biggest killers impacting many forms of chronic illness such as heart attack, stroke, hypertension, cancer and much more. In fact chronic stress increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke by between 2 to 9 times and when you consider that 50% of males will have a heart attack in their 50’s it is time we start taking serious action. However, we get so caught up in the busy-ness of our lives that we often ignore our health and our signs of illness.
One simple non-pharmaceutical based treatment for chronic stress that is now supported by lots of science is yoga. Not only does the research show those practicing yoga to have higher spirits and levels of life satisfaction, with lower scores in excitability, aggressiveness, emotionality and physical complaints but they also show significant improvements in their ability to cope with stress. In one study participants attending just ten yoga sessions over four months demonstrated significant improvements in both psychological (self‑rated stress and stress behaviour, anger, exhaustion, quality of life) as well as physiological benefits such as lowered blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol. Similarly, a study of 113 participants reported significant reductions in negative emotions and stress as a result of yoga. In another study measuring the production of gamma‑aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter in the brain which acts as an inhibitor to control anxiety and has a calming effect on the body, found levels of GABA increased by 27% in the group practicing yoga where as there was no change observed in the control group who spent the allotted time reading. GABA is one of those chemicals in the body that we have more of when we feel happier and in control of our lives. Severe anxiety and depression (associated with low production of GABA) are commonly treated with "pharmaceuticals agents that increase the activity of the GABA system.
When people get too busy and stressed they also tend to take on more negative behaviours, the opposite occurs with the practice of yoga. A small study showed a reduction in stress related negative behaviours such as smoking rates leading to positive lifestyle change after 10 days compared to a control group. Add this to the direct benefits on stress levels and you can understand why yoga is now being introduced into many busy work practices and is seen as a valid and effective stress management activity.